Rock and roll music, if you like it, if you feel it, you can’t help but move to it. That’s what happens to me. I can’t help it. – Elvis Presley
June 1984 was when I was introduced to the Boss. Bruce Springsteen has been recording music since the early 1970s and turns 63 next week… I pray to the little plastic baby Jesus I look as good as he does at 63. It wasn’t until his album Born in the USA, however, that I heard of Bruce Springsteen. Springsteen had been around… but I hadn’t heard him and the E Street Band until the summer of 1984. Competing at this time for my musical attention was Van Halen’s 1984 album… rocking guitar riffs was what I was interested in… not songs about the American condition. After Born in the USA, I began to get exposed to his early stuff… it never grabbed me, but I didn’t dislike him… my tastes were a little less Jersey working class rock and more Jersey hair metal… Bon Jovi had my interest… Bruce had a non-famous Courtney Cox appeal. It was way later in life that I started seeing the connection between New Jersey and rock-n-roll… Hell it was later in life when I realized the Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton didn’t want to be rock-n-rollers… they wanted to be bluesmen.
Later, after years of not understanding the angst of “Born in the USA,” I discovered Nebraska and Born to Run. Then I realized I had heard of the Boss prior to 1984… he was the guy who talked about young ladies strapping their hands around his engine. The Boss is the quintessential American rock star… it isn’t that he has used the American flag as cover art… it isn’t that he is constantly seen in Levis… it isn’t that his E Street Band is so American in its melting pot line-up that you get it confused with a Benneton ad. It is the fact that the Boss is all about arena rock… arena rock is quintessentially American. When European bands stage concerts in an arena… they have sold themselves as an American band. AC/DC is Australian… but when they rock Madrid in a soccer stadium they are emulating the American ideal of rock-n-roll. Loud… big… unadulterated rockin’ and rollin’ to masses of people.
Rock-n-Roll is American… other nation’s musicians perform it… Americans like the Boss perfect it… represent it. The flaming lighter and screams of “Free Bird” are universal in their appeal… but we all know that neither is part of rock-n-roll without Zippos (American brand) and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Numerous British musicians dream of the day when they go platinum in America and play to sold out American audiences. Yes, one can make it in the music industry without ever being a household name in America… but by being recognized and loved in America is the difference between being rich and being filthy rich AND famous.
Springsteen passed that moment of filthy rich and famous around 1984. Born in the USA was wildly popular… and thus, it should be of no surprise that it is probably his worst and most generic-sounding album. No matter how many songs you sing about steel mills and their imminent closure… a crappy and woefully commercialized album like Born in the USA is going to sell well… and be a small portion of your catalog that you wished you hadn’t recorded.
On Friday, September 14, 2012, I saw the Boss perform. He and the E Street Band are on their Wrecking Ball tour and they are playing baseball stadiums. This combination of a new but familar-sounding album and baseball stadiums provides a bit more to the Americana legend that is the Boss. My experience at my first Springsteen concert was coupled with my first time to “walk” on my favorite MLB team’s field of dreams. Fittingly, a stadium and field that houses an American past time was the location of a true American rock-n-roller’s concert.
On the way to my seats on the “field,” I got to saunter past the Nationals’ dug out, I got to walk on the clay that my favorite ball players walk across as the enter and exit their place of work. My seats were roughly in the spot were Jason Werth (an overpaid right fielder) broke his wrist while snagging a drooping fly ball. I immediately announced to the digital world that I was taking a piss in the Nationals’ bullpen when I realized that the nearest porta-johns were, in fact, located within the fence that houses, on game day, a wonderful pitching staff. The center right outfield fence was mere steps away… a beautiful and large white curly W graced it. I took no pictures of the Boss… I did get pictures of me “standing” in the outfield… the fence and W were the perfect backdrop. I was on holy ground… anyone could have come out on stage and I would have been happy… I was on sanctified ground.
A Springsteen concert seems to be a mix of good time rock-n-roll and a reflection of time and place. Holy moments of silence and thoughts punctuated the evening. The Boss made no attempts to hide his age nor his graceful arc in the older years of reflection. Music and artistic expression through a dominating stage presence is how the Boss attacked the performance.
If you have seen Springsteen and the E Street Band, you know exactly what I saw. [Insert new Springsteen album name here] songs were mixed with “Thunder Road,” “Dancing in the Dark,” and “Born to Run.” Obviously he ended with the Detroit medley and “Twist and Shout.” Clarence’s nephew featured prominently on sax… the crowd roared for him… one wonders if it was more for Clarence than the young sax player.
There were no fireworks, no smoke machines… no Judas Priest extravaganza. Simple, but large, stage with two large screens and a muted but appropriate light setting was the Boss’ backdrop. Springsteen mixed with the crowd and then sweated on stage. He made appropriate references to America and the latest political feel of those that assume a multimillionaire can feel their economic pain. I was not surprised what I saw or heard… I was surprised, however, of how an American rock-n-roll icon could perform in such a typical and expected concert that invigorated the crowd. There were no attempts to conceal or dress-up the music… instead it felt as if the Boss was bluntly plain and obvious. One expects the Boss to rock… and rock is what the Boss did. It didn’t feel tired or worn… it felt exactly what rock-n-roll was supposed to feel like… hard, American, and sort of angry.
I danced with friends… I watched official concert staff members dance… I watched two young red-headed twins… dressed in horns and blue dresses… shuffle and shimmy when Springsteen played “Devil with Blue Dress On.” These were no Buffett Parrot Heads… but every other person was wearing a [insert Springsteen album title here] tour t-shirt with jeans. Like the Boss, the hardcore fans seemed understated… but definitely not sedate.
A good preacher will provide you with a daily dose of religion before you realize you have been provided a lesson in salvation… Springsteen provided a dose of ol’time Rock-n-Roll and entertained you before you even knew it was happening. I and my date were bouncing and moving to new and old Springsteen songs without realizing our response. Feet tapped and hips swayed. No need to know the words, no need to be a member of the Boss’ cult… all that was needed was an appreciation of rock-n-roll. Even as we age, we know we can “come back baby, rock-n-roll never forgets.”